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The “Critical Race Theory” (aka CRT) panic won’t last forever – sooner or later, the right will move on to a new term to fearmonger about. (Previously used terms include “political correctness,” “social justice warriors,” “cancel culture” and “the woke.”) But it might last for years, because they seem convinced that they’ve got a winning strategy here.
Christopher Rufo, an extremely prominent right-wing opponent of CRT, was shockingly open about the game plan on Twitter, writing:
We have successfully frozen their brand—”critical race theory”—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.
The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.
Indeed, a Utah Board of Education member, in an anti-CRT slideshow, listed what she said were common “euphamisms” for CRT. Items on her list include “diversity,” “systems of power,” “multi-culturalism,” “racial justice,” “systemic racism,” and “anti-racism.” Basically, it’s become a basket into which the right can put anything they want, but particular any progressive or left-wing view of racism.
And now conservative legislatures across the country are rushing to ban Critical Race Theory from schools, universities, and government organizations. The bans tend to be a grab-bag of things the right objects to in education and diversity training. Much of it is genuinely objectionable – but rarely, if ever, happens outside the fever dreams of Fox news commentators. But the bans are often written in such vague language that they potentially could be utilized against any anti-racist thought.
So what is Critical Race Theory? I’ll quote the Washington Post:
Critical race theory is an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic, and not just demonstrated by individual people with prejudices. The theory holds that racial inequality is woven into legal systems and negatively affects people of color in their schools, doctors’ offices, the criminal justice system and countless other parts of life….
Khiara Bridges, author of “Critical Race Theory: A Primer,” said traditional civil rights discourse maintained that racism would end when people stopped thinking about race. The dissenting scholars, she said, rejected that conclusion and believed race consciousness was necessary to overcoming racial stratification.
If you’d like a much longer and more academic explanation than the Washington Post article, you could try Bradly Mason’s explanation here. Or, for a shorter version, Bradly summarized his article in a twitter thread.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels. The first three panels show a podium, on a stage, with a light purple curtain behind it. A sign on the podium says “The Critical Race Theory MENACE Conference.”
A white man with a tidy beard and mustache and nice hair, wearing a collared shirt and a striped necktie, is standing behind the podium, yelling.
NECKTIE: Critical Race Theory is how the Marxist left brainwashes our children!
NECKTIE: Critical Race Theory is the new face of Jim Crow!
Now smiling pleasantly, Necktie man takes a step back from the podium, waving to a bald white man wearing glasses, a suit jacket, and a wine-red turtleneck. Turtleneck man is also smiling pleasantly as he walks to the podium.
NECKTIE: Thank you very much. Our next speaker is columnist Richard Thomas, here to tell us more about Critical Race Theory. Welcome, Richard.
TURTLENECK: Thank you.
Turtleneck man is now standing behind the podium, yelling and waving his arms wide.
TURTLENECK: Critical Race Theory is a plague! A pestilence!
TURTLENECK: Critical Race Theory is the boil on America’s butt and it must be lanced!
A new scene. We’re now in a coffeeshop, where Necktie Man and Turtleneck man, talking sedately, are sitting at a small round table with coffee cups in front of them. Turtleneck man also has a muffin. Necktie is rubbing the back of his head with one hand, looking puzzled, and Turtleneck man is shrugging.
NECKTIE: So, um… What is critical race theory?
TURTLENECK: I dunno. Some academic thing?